Updated: Jul 22
Herb Expert Marilyn Buehler discusses how to turn your home-grown herbs into delicious teas! Watch our video and read the article below. Plus, don't forget to download the attached handout with her personal recipe.
A Thousands-of-Years Old Tradition
Marilyn Buehler is an herbalist and a Master Gardener who has been growing, harvesting, drying, and using herbs for close to 60 years. She began learning about herbs as child from her grandmother and later became an organic herb grower. She is also a former Marshall Grain staff member. Now retired, she still teaches classes on her favorite subject around the DFW area. In this video and accompanying article, she shares ways to turn your own home-grown herbs into refreshing teas.
Please note this video transcript has been edited for readability.
When I give these classes I try and make it something interesting because
there's so much you can do with herbs. I mean literally. It's just amazing.
A Bit of History
Herbal teas are really Tisanes. (See attached handout.) That is a centuries-old name for them. A Tisane is a drink made by pouring boiling water onto particular types of dried or fresh flowers or leaves and is not made from the Tea plant. The Tea plant (Camillia sinsensis) is the only plant that produces Oolong, Black tea, White tea, Green tea, and Brown tea.
White tea is harvested in when the buds first come out. And then the green tea is harvested
from the leaves. Those two teas are not processed as much as your Oolong and your Black and Brown teas.
Black tea is harvested when the the plant is is going into dormancy. The leaves are harvested and then dried and then Tea Masters blend those with different ingredients. For example, they might soak the dried leaves in peppermint oil or another kind of oil or blend in other tea leaves or herb leaves to get the blend they want.
One ingredient I like to add is organic rose petals. Rose petals, organic rose petals, add a wonderful flavor to any tea. You can use unscented rose petals, but the more fragrant the rose, the more flavorful it will.
The only place I know of currently to get them, unless you grow your own, is a place in North Richland Hills called The Hangout. She sells fresh or dried organic rose petals. But whatever teas you make, try include rose petals or lavender flowers.
Roots, berries, and all sorts of things are also used. There's really no limit. Find an herb or a blend you like and experiment. And that's just what we're going to do today.
You'll notice at the bottom of your handout (see below), there is a recipe. This is the basic recipe I use. And it can be changed.
Stevia sweet leaf will sweeten any of your tea blends. I like Lemon Verbena, Peppermint, Stevia, Orange Mint, and Bergamot or Monarda. It's also called Bee Balm.
You've all heard of Earl Gray tea? Bergamot is the herb that gives it that unique flavor. So you can use it, if you like Earl Gray tea, to give your own teas that mixture.
Fresh Herbs Vs. Dried Herbs
What's the difference between fresh herbs and dried herbs? To use fresh herbs you use twice as much In other words you'll use two tablespoons of a fresh herb and one tablespoon of a dried herb. As the herbs dry their oils concentrate in the leaves.
In the summer I make sun tea a lot. I use one tea bag of Brown tea or Black tea in a gallon jar. In that I'll put my Stevia, my Mints, Star Anise and stick Cinnamon. Once I've added all of these, I set it in the sun and it is so good! Two of us go through about three gallons of sun tea a week. It's just good and refreshing.
How does one dry their herbs for the winter season? You want to cut them at their peak right before they flower. If you cut them after they flower, you may need to use more of it because once the plant starts forming flowers and seeds, all of its energy is going to go toward that rather than the flavor of the herb.
I have a big bowl I put them in. I rinse them and put them in the bowl. Then I put them out on my counter on a towel and I let them dry. I pick off any bad leaves before I put them on the towel. I pat them dry and I let them set on the counter for a couple of hours to kind of air dry. Then I bring out my flats and I just lay them in the flats, If I am going to dry them in my garage, I put a paper towel over them.
Basils and Sweet Majoram seem to dry better in the refrigerator. To dry them in the refrigerator you want to get lunch bags -- brown or white paper bags like bakeries use.
You want to harvest them. You want to clean them like I just explained. You want to write on the bag what the herb is, because they will look different. Unless you're really familiar with that herb and it's scent and taste, you should write on the bag what it is and the date.
You want to take a bundle and hold it by the stem end and then stick that bundle into the bag so the stems are sticking out. Then I use a rubber band and band it and I put it in the top portion of my refrigerator. In about two weeks you'll have really nice flavorful pretty green herbs.
As I said, Basil is best dried in the refrigerator, but you can also dry it. Hang it up and dry it in a dark -- not hot -- warm place. It will dry green. So will Mint. You'll notice all my herbs are just a little darker than they are when they are fresh. That's because I dry them properly.
Most of the herbs and vegetables that you buy in the grocery store are irradiated. If they are not grown organically, when they are harvested, they're just picked, they're not washed, the bad leaves are not picked off, there may be a few bugs in there, and so that is why they irradiate them. That is how they clean them and make them available for we humans to eat.
If you love to garden, herbs are not hard to grow and you can dry your own organic produce. There may be a few that just don't grow here in Texas. An example would be French Tarragon. If you're a French Tarragon fan now is the time to buy your French Tarragon and grow it and harvest it. It will live down to 15º to 20º degrees F outside. You don't want to grow it in the Spring because it will die during the heat. It just can't take the heat. But this time of year with this lovely Fall weather we're having, you can grow it through the winter and you'll get a nice harvest off of your French Tarragon in the Spring.
Something that I like better than Tarragon is Mexican Mint Marigold. I love that! I even love it better than French Tarragon. You can use the leaves and the flowers in your tea. Or if you want to make a pretty salad and put flowers, they're edible. It gives your vegetables a milder flavor. It takes the bite out of Broccoli and the Brussels sprouts. And it really gives carrots a sweet flavor. French Tarragon will do the same thing but I don't grow much French Tarragon since I've discovered Mexican Mint Marigold. We did not have that in Missouri. That's a plant I grow here in Texas.
Storing Your Herbs
You can store your dried herbs it in plastic bags, but I prefer to store mine in glass jars.
Why do herbs sometimes turn brown? That's usually because you've dried them too fast. It's gotten too hot. It's okay to use a brown herb. I just like green herbs because I can do it. For centuries people have hung herbs and in their barns and it worked well for them.
How to Blend Your Mixtures
In this demonstration I am going to start with my basic recipe here using equal parts of each ingredient: And "equal parts" are kind of relative. I don't get out the measuring spoons.
You want to put two healthy handfuls of Stevia because the only tea I like unsweetened is Mint tea. We're gonna add some Lemon Verbena, and some Spearmint.
Now Peppermint is a very strong herb. And Mints procreate and create new varieties every year. That's why if you're going to start your Mint, you either want to start it from the root. If you already have some growing in your garden, you can just dig it up and put it in another pot if you want to grow more of that particular variety.
Black Stem Peppermint is a very medicinal type of Mint. It has a black stem. Literally. A blackish-purple stem. I like Spearmint. And I'll put a little Orange Mint.
A couple of times a month I'll mix my teas up and I kind of let them blend a little bit. You can smash the leaves up if you want. You can add bits of Star Anise, Whole Cloves, All Spice berries, stick Cinnamon and Lime Peel.
Do you all know how to make your your Lime, Lemon, and Orange peels? I like to use Navel Oranges. They seem to have more flavor. You take a zester -- a real fine shredder -- and you shred them. I put them on a paper plate. I cover it with Saran Wrap and I stick them in the freezer for about a week.
Now there are other ways to do it. This is the way I do it and I have discovered it keeps the Orange or the Lime or the Lemon flavor more. When you take it out, put the paper plate. Take the Saran Wrap off and cover it with paper towel. Then I let it set in the garage another week or two.
You don't want it to get over 95 degrees. I use my garage because it is dark and it gets good air circulation, but you can use a closet or a spare room. Once they're fully dry you can just stack your flats like that, so they don't take up a lot of room.
Have any of you heard of Star Anise? I love Star Anise. And you really don't need a whole lot. I just put a few in and then mix them in. Then I'll leave this mixture set.
I use a tea ball to make my tea. If you are going to use this kind of tea ball, make sure it's stainless steel. They sell these in tin and silver colored brass. Make sure yours is stainless steel.
During the summer I make a big batch weekly.
I store my herbs for a year. You can tell when you open them up, they should have a nice smell to them and they'll be crinkly even if they're over a year. If they're stored in glass jars they should last you quite a while.
Lemongrass Vs. Lemon Verbena
What is the difference between Lemongrass and Lemon Verbena? They're two entirely different species of plants. Lemongrass has a really kind of mild, distinct flavor. I like the flavor of Lemongrass more.
But Lemongrass is hard to dry in my opinion. I've never been able to dry it to my satisfaction. So I freeze it. I just cut it in strips and roll it. Then I wrap two strips in tin foil and put it in the freezer. Or you can chop it up and put it in a little container.
Angustifolia and Munstead are my favorite types of Lavender. Those are two very old varieties of the herb. And another one I like to use is Lavandula.
Yes, the question was after the plant flowers do I keep it for it to grow year after year? Are you familiar with Perennial, Annual, and Biennial?
A Perennial is a plant that lives for many years and grows back each year from the root. An annual is a plant that lives for only one year. It propagates itself by producing seeds that grow into new plants. A Biennial is a plant that lives for two years. In the second year it flowers and produces seeds that can then grow into a new plant.
Lemon Verbena is a perennial. I am always happy when my Lemon Verbena comes back. It even survived "snowmageddon" a couple of years ago. I use a lot of lemon verbena not just in teas but in my vegetables.
I always cut min back. I cut it down to about 4 inches right after we get a light frost. And then I mulch it. I get two or three nice harvests a year. I've got these 3 jars of it now.
Lemon Balm is wonderful. Lemon balm is a member of the Mint family. It's got a very sweet lemony flavor. If you're going to grow Lemon Balm, it's one of these like the French Tarragon. It can't take the hot Summers. Plant it now (in October) and it will grow all winter. Lemon Balm is something you really should grow if you can.
Monarda Give Earl Gray It's Unique Flavor
Monarda, or Bee Balm, is what gives Earl Gray its flavor. It's a perennial and also a member of the Mint family. It can be grown successfully here. It's also known as Oswego Tea.
You can use the other Hibiscus flowers but the red Hibiscus flower is the most flavorful and it makes your tea a really pretty red. I use the the whole flower. I wait until evening when the flowers close up and harvest them at night.
Steeping Your Tea
For herbal teas, you want to let them steep for about 3 to 5 minutes and you don't want to use boiling water. You only use boiling water with Oolong, Black or Brown tea. With your green teas and your herb teas, the water should be just short of boiling. Take it off the burner when you start to see a few bubbles forming. It won't hurt if you do put boiling water but it will take away some of the flavor.
Echinacea & Chamomile
Echinacea is a medicinal herb I have used also. Echinacea supports the immune system.
If you like Chamomile, now is the time to grow it in Texas. Chamomile tea is known for its relaxing and soothing properties. I like to mix it with some of my spices, like Stevia. There are actually two kinds on the market. There's Roman, which is the kind the English use for their grass because it doesn't grow very tall.
German chamomile produces more flowers but it's not as flavorful as Roman. It's the flowers you want to harvest. So you'll need lots and lots of plants for Chamomile tea because you'll need a good half a tea ball here full of Chamomile flowers dried to make you a nice cup of Chamomile tea.
Fall is an excellent time of year to grow many types of herbs in North Texas, so get started on your herb garden today. In just a few weeks you can be harvesting, drying, and blending your own teas. Just start with a few that you like and don't be afraid to experiment!